01/17/11 - Los Angeles to Christchurch
The week leading up to the trip was a typical one for me. I worked through the day whilst my evenings were filled with checking off the final details. Katie, on the other hand, had a very eventful week. Seeing as she was already on her leave of absence, she spent her hours updating itineraries, printing documents, and cleaning the apartment from top to bottom (and that's not an exaggeration!). She's the greatest. We also found some time to get a haircut. Mine was just a trim while Katie’s was an extreme chop, leaving only a mop top behind. Absolutely adorable.
So finally, after two years of researching and planning and booking, the day arrived. It was hard to believe, actually. We’d both fought minor bouts of anxiety about our trip over the past few weeks. For two months we would be out of our comfort zone. You’d think neither one of us would've slept the night before our flight, but that wasn’t the case. Thankfully, we were both utterly exhausted and had no trouble getting some shut eye.
In the morning we rolled out of bed and awoke to a gorgeous sunny day in southern California. So gorgeous, in fact, that it almost seemed a shame to leave. Almost.
Our worries had abandoned us overnight. With methodical joy, we stripped the bed, loaded the laundry, and washed the dishes for the last time, all with a slight spring in our step. Katie made some farewell phone calls in the bright morning sunshine while I laid on the bed and did the same, relaxing in the warm breeze blowing through the window.
We feasted on a scrumptious breakfast at Bea Bea’s with our friend Margaret. She'll be checking our mail and exploiting our washer/drying while we’re away (what’s ours is yours, M!). With food on the brain, snacks were quickly purchased for our flight over the Pacific. We told Margaret a few more important details regarding our apartment. Avoid the mice. Don’t shower on Tuesdays. You know, the usual stuff. Finally, 4 P.M. clicked into place and it was time to go. We’d estimated getting to the airport approximately three hours before departure. Some may think this excessive, but as I've mentioned before, you’re dealing with Girl Scouts here.
As we made our way to the car, bags in tow, Margaret was given the task of taking our first official trip photos. We were giddy with joy. Fourteen years of wanting this trip and we were finally making it a reality. Life was good.
A fast zip down to LAX, some quick goodbyes, and we were rolling up to the Virgin Australia terminal with enthusiasm. The first thing I noticed about the check-in gate were the lights: purple and red. They glowed softly from behind the counters. The second thing I noticed was the music: R&B. It pumped out from hidden speakers as though we were in a singles bar. As soon as Beyoncé started singing "Halo" I was hit with a realization – we’d unwittingly booked a flight on Soul Plane.
Virgin America (and in this case it’s affiliate, V Australia) was one of those newfangled airlines that catered toward a hipper crowd. Who knew we were so cool? I certainly didn’t. Seriously though, the airline workers were literally dancing behind the counters helping people. This was no Continental.
The briefest moment of dread hit us when the woman behind the counter asked if we had visas. Um, no, we didn't. We knew we didn’t need them but it still made us uneasy. We then had to show her our itinerary for our return. We stayed very calm while she typed away on her computer not saying a single word for what felt like ten minutes. Finally, she handed over our boarding passes. We were good to go!
We decided to grab some grub at the only real restaurant in the airport. There was a wait, and also some confusion over how to put your name on the list and step away from the entrance so that others may do the same. Instead, a group of very obnoxious Americans stood in the way talking loudly and creating general chaos and confusion. It was in this moment that I decided to be a shining example of politeness on our trip abroad.
We took off at 9 P.M. and shot straight over the Pacific ocean for fourteen hours. After settling in, watching some television, and eating our in-flight dinner, we tried our best to sleep through the night. 40 winks, it was not. More like 3 disconnected, spasmodic winks while sitting in a pretzel-like position. The upshot was we were able to watch the sun rise through the tiny plane window before eating our in-flight breakfast and touching down in Sydney.
It was 6am when we landed. The airport was empty. We’d been hoping to store our luggage and dash out to the Sydney Opera House during our four hour layover. Unfortunately, we’d have to go through customs in order to do so. Needless to say, we decided against it. It was most definitely not worth the risk of missing our plane to Christchurch. Instead, we contented ourselves with longing looks out the airport windows while stuffing ourselves with food. You see, we 'd forgotten we’d get two meals on the plane, and we stupidly brought waaayyy too much food for the flight. We tried to eat as much of our salads as we could, but eventually no vacancy signs were posted on our mouths. Despite our next flight only being three hours long, we had a feeling we were going to get yet another meal between take off and landing. We were right.
Our second flight was on Emirates, and at this point we were living zombies. We’d had next to no sleep and were suddenly eating Moroccan chicken. But we endured. Hell, we’d be there in no time, have our hotel room, and crash on a bed sometime soon. In the meantime, we enjoyed watching the landscape from the plane’s bird’s eye view camera. On the television screens we could watch the ground below while flying over. It was quite beautiful, our first glimpse of the New Zealand landscape, with its snow capped mountains and meandering rivers.
All was well until we landed. We tossed our uneaten food into the garbage (such a shame), stopped at the bathroom, and ended up at the ass-end of the most gigantic customs line you ever saw. I’m telling you, this line was HUGE. The calming images of rolling waves and dolphins swimming were nice. Lovely, in fact. But in that moment if I got any more calm I’d be passed out on the floor drooling. As it was, I found myself napping on any stationary object I could find.
Eventually, one hour after we landed, we reached the front of the line. Stamp. Stamp. Done. Excellent. Except for now we had to have our tent and shoes examined. Yes, we had to claim these things on entrance to the country (It’s a foreign soil thing). When the friendly Kiwi gentleman came up to me with his hand out I happily shook it. "Hello!" I said. My enthusiasm to meet him was greeted kindly, however, he wasn’t trying to shake my hand, he wanted our claims papers. He was amused, and turned out to be a very nice man who wanted to erect our tent and wash the bottom of Katie’s boots. They have strange "customs" here in New Zealand. ;)
With that done, we now needed to get our rental car before heading to the hotel. Dear Lord, could I do it? Could I speak intelligibly to someone at such depths of exhaustion? Apparently, yes, but only with deep concentration. With some time and patience we made it to Scottie’s car rental. The woman was very helpful and even called our hotel so she could give us proper directions. She knew the recent earthquakes in Christchurch had blocked some roads and she wanted to make sure we didn’t get lost. How nice!
Thus started our new mantra: Stay on the left. Stay on the left. Stay on the left. We looped this phrase like a broken record as Katie wove her way into the city center. Things went smoothly aside from the windshield wiper occasionally cutting its way across our view.
Finally, we checked into our hotel room. We made it! From the moment we left our apartment to the moment we arrived in our room, 29 hours had passed. Needless to say, that bed felt like heaven…